3 Easy Exercises to Help Improve Balance (and Tone Your Quads)

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Whether you’re the star of the company softball team or a supermarket queen, good balance is key to preventing injury while maintaining coordination and postural control. And no matter your arena or activity level, that stability becomes even more important as we age. The best way to improve your balance is by breaking out of your routine and challenging your body—and in the fitness world, that involves a little something we like to call exercise.

Though you might not be running marathons or competing in heavyweight competitions, a strong and stable core is vital to your functional fitness, or, as Life Time coach Brooke Van Paris likes to call it, your ‘quality of life insurance.’ “Balance has many benefits, including strengthening our stabilizer muscles and joint stability, as well as improving our posture and proprioception [the ability to perform multiple tasks simultaneously without stopping to think about each individual movement].” In order to age gracefully (and comfortably), we need all of those things to be in tip-top shape. But as life goes on, they can be difficult to maintain.

“As we age, we tend to watch our bodies slowly lose mobility, coordination, flexibility and balance because our bodies get so used to the repetitive patterns in our daily lives,” Van Paris reveals. Like going from your bed to your desk to the fridge and back again. “We lose all the skills we used to have in our younger years, solely because we don’t continue exposing ourselves to them.” Now, we’re not suggesting you throw on your old Keds and make a beeline for the monkey bars, but mixing up your movements and breaking out of your routine can have a huge impact on how you move through life (plus how you feel doing it). “Good balance gives us control over our movements and thus more confidence in our daily life activities.”

As the powerhouse of your body, the core plays a huge role in balance and stability—plus it’s involved in almost every move you make, from walking and hiking to deep cleaning the bathroom. Doing exercises that challenge your core and throw off your center of gravity will fire up your muscles and the neurons in your brain, aiding in spatial awareness and bodily control. Single-leg exercises are a great way to impose that imbalance in a safe and controlled environment. You can also up the ante by adding an unstable surface (like a Bosu ball) to any basic functional movement, from squats to deadlifts to single-leg holds.

If you’re new to the fitness world or are rebuilding your strength, start with these three beginner balance exercises from Coach Brooke and Life Time’s active ager program, ARORA.

15 Stability Ball Exercises That Burn Out Every Major Muscle Group (Plus Some Cardio, Just for Fun)

Brooke Van Paris/McKenzie Cordell

1. Single Leg Hold

Begin standing with your feet together, arms lowered down at your sides. Lift one leg up until your knee is even with your hip and your thigh is parallel to the ground. To maintain this position, keep your gaze locked in on a fixed focal point and tighten your core by drawing your belly button in toward your spine. Keep your tail bone tucked and your standing leg anchored to the ground by actively pressing through your foot. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides and repeat.

Brooke Van Paris/McKenzie Cordell

2. Step-ups

Step 1: Begin standing in front of a box, bench or step—a sturdy couch or chair works too. Lift one leg and place your entire foot on top of the elevated surface (heel and all). Squeeze your glute and push through the elevated foot to stand up, engaging your core as you lift your floating leg up until your thigh is parallel to the ground.

Step 2: To descend, bend the standing leg and slowly lower back down in one controlled movement. Keep your leg and core muscles engaged to control the momentum as it pulls you back down (no plopping or bouncing). Complete 10 reps total, then switch sides and repeat.

Brooke Van Paris/McKenzie Cordell

3. Weighted Single Arm Overhead Squat

*The dumbbell adds additional tension while using one arm at a time creates a central imbalance that will automatically make your shoulder, leg and core muscles work harder.

Step 1: Begin standing with your feet shoulder-width apart holding a medium-weight dumbbell in one hand (5 to 15 pounds). Extend the weighted arm up overhead with your palm facing in, keeping the dumbbell directly in line with your shoulder. Your other arm should be actively resting at your side.

Step 2: Lower down into a squat by pushing your hips back until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Keep your chest lifted and your knees in line with your pinky toes (but not extending past). At your lowest point, squeeze your glutes and press through your feet to return to the starting position, keeping your core engaged the entire time. Complete 10 reps total, then switch sides and repeat.

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